Posts Tagged: Jeff Dahlberg
Record winter rainfall during the 2016-17 winter has enabled farms to emerge from survival mode in the short term, but scientists are still working hard to be ready for the next drought, reported Tim Hearden in Capital Press.
Hearden spent a day at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier to learn how researchers at the facility and the UC West Side Research and Extension Center near Five Points are combining technology with management practices to put every drop of irrigation water to work.
“This is one of the few places in the world where you can do drought research on a field level,” said Jeff Dahlberg, director of the 330-acre Kearney facility. “What I'm planning is a world-class drought nursery.”
At the West Side REC, researchers are working with farmers to perfect micro-irrigation efficiency and test drought stress on the area's most prevalent crops.
“We'll grow a tremendous number of cultivars of a crop” and identify “what seem to be the most promising cultivars when you grow them under drought conditions,” said Bob Hutmacher, a cotton specialist and the center's director.
Hearden spoke to Jeff Mitchell, UCCE cropping systems specialist and director of the Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation center (CASI). CASI is encouraging farmers to adopt farming practices that save water, reduce dust and help improve the condition of soil, such as subsurface drip irrigation, overhead irrigation, minimum tillage, cover crops and crop residues.
“This is not done right now in California,” Mitchell said. “In the future, there may be a strong likelihood of certain agricultural sectors adopting these practices.”
Other subsurface irrigation trials are showing dramatic increases in yields. Khaled Bali, an irrigation water management specialist at Kearney, said underground drip systems in alfalfa fields have achieved 20 to 30 percent more yields while in some cases using 20 percent less water.
Kevin Day, a UCCE pomology advisor in Tulare County, is trying subsurface drip in a peach and nectarine orchard after working with the USDA to use it for pomegranates. He's seen as much as a 90 percent reduction in weeds because there's no surface water to feed them.
“Fewer weeds, fewer pesticides,” he said. “We use high-frequency irrigation. We irrigate as the crop needs it. When you do that, you keep the roots deeper, which makes for better aeration.”
Tea that was planted 50 years ago at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center may revive interest in growing the popular beverage in the San Joaquin Valley, reported Dale Yurong on ABC30 Action News. The reporter visited the 330-acre ag research facility Jan. 2 to get a first-hand look at what center director Jeff Dahlberg calls a "beautiful hedge."
In fact, the 13 landscape shrubs represent the best tea cultivars grown at Kearney when Lipton Tea was funding research to determine whether the Valley soils and climate could support production of plants to be used to manufacture instant tea. Today, a new trend is clearly brewing, Yurong said.
"Folks can't get enough tea," he said.
A researcher at UC Davis, who learned of the tea plants from documents stored by the campus' new Global Tea Initiative, was surprised to learn that the 50-year-old tea plants have survived and thrived. UC Davis chemistry professor Jacquelyn Gervay-Hague plans to study the soil where tea is growing to learn about the impact microbes in the rootzone may have on the health attributes of brewed tea.
Dahlberg has looped in the small-scale farm advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Fresno County, Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, to research tea production at Kearney.
"I think (tea) does have potential for some high-value tea products," he said. "And I can really envision some small farmers getting involved in this."
Read more about the tea at Kearney here.
Fifty-five years ago, Thomas J. Lipton Inc. funded a tea study at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, which is piquing the interest of scientists today. For 18 years, researchers pampered and coaxed 41 tea clones to determine whether tea plantations could be a lucrative alternative for San Joaquin Valley farmers.
Scientists of the time predicted a potential $25,000 economic value of future California tea plantings. Today, tea is a $3.8 billion business in the U.S. and UC Davis recently launched a Global Tea Initiative. Kearney submitted its yellowed research reports, correspondence and newspaper clippings about the long-ago tea research to the initiative's collection of research, teaching and outreach spanning agriculture, social sciences, health, culture and economics of all things tea.
That got the attention of UC Davis chemistry professor Jacquelyn Gervay-Hague, who is studying microbes in the soil where tea is grown and their potential impact on the health attributes of tea.
“I believe there is a microbial exchange that ends up in the cup,” she said.
When the Kearney tea research program was scrapped in 1981, a prescient researcher had a handful of the best tea clones planted in the landscape around buildings at Kearney, where they stand today as fall-blooming non-descript shrubs.
Hague, who with her students frequently travels overseas to sample soil on tea plantations, learned of the plants at Kearney and recognized the opportunity to conduct studies in California.
“It's really remarkable,” she said.
Kearney director Jeff Dahlberg believes the renewed interest in the center's tea, growing awareness about the healthful properties of tea, and increasing enthusiasm for artisanal tea and locally grown food could turn tea into a lucrative specialty crop for small-scale San Joaquin Valley farmers.
“This may be something like blueberries,” he said. “Twenty years ago, people thought they couldn't be grown in California. But with research conducted here at Kearney, there is now a thriving blueberry industry in the San Joaquin Valley and on the coast.”
It was the same intention that prompted Dahlberg's predecessors to support the tea studies in the 1960s and 70s.
At that time, 41 clones were propagated in a lathe house at Kearney, and later planted in a half-acre field plot. In 1967, UC Cooperative Extension agronomy researcher Karl H. Ingebretsen told a newspaper reporter that the plants came from clones that survived a similar USDA trial in the 1880s.
“Most of the imported plants were taken from some growing in South Carolina, where the Lipton company found them 10 years ago growing wild,” Ingebretsen said in 1967.
The Kearney superintendent at that time, Frank Coddington, said the scientists hoped successful experimentation would lead to varieties of tea suitable for mechanical harvest and the production of instant tea, a product that in those days was becoming more and more popular.
The tea clones at Kearney grew well and appeared healthy, the reports said. Tea plants tolerated California's dry climate and stood the heat when irrigated properly. Five of the 41 clones were reported to show “real promise,” but when the tea project was terminated in 1981, only a few plants representing two of the clones were saved as landscape shrubs. Nine plants now grow on the west side of a corrugated tin warehouse, and four in the shade of knobby flowering pear trees just south of the original building at the site.
Gervay-Hague plans to build on the results from early Kearney research with 21st Century agricultural production tools.
“I won't repeat the work done in the 60s, but they didn't know about the microbiome or genetics back then,” she said. “UC Davis has 3D imaging capability, which I want to use to watch the plants change. I would like to do DNA testing.”
The UC Davis chemist is applying for grants to build a repository of plants that may become the foundation of commercial tea gardens in California.
This story en español.
Drought tolerant crop
To learn more about sorghum, we started with one of the nation's leading experts on the crop – Jeff Dahlberg, director of University of California's Kearney Agricultural Research Center in Parlier, CA. Jeff previously served as the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) curator for sorghum. He was research director for the National Sorghum Producers and the United Sorghum Checkoff Program. In 2011, Jeff was recipient of National Sorghum Producers' Outstanding Achievement Award. In other words, he knows his sorghum.
“The versatility of sorghum allows it to be used in a wide range of food, feed and bioenergy products,” Dahlberg said. “The plant has inherent drought tolerance and can thrive in growing conditions that would seem too harsh for other crops. With more research and outreach, sorghum could be an extremely valuable crop for helping to feed the world in the future as we deal with limited inputs and water.”
Dahlberg first became interested in sorghum as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, a land-locked African country that consistently is one of the lowest-ranked in the United Nations' Human Development Index (HDI).
“Niger's farmers relied on rainfall to produce their major staples and sorghum was a crop that did well under limited rainfall,” Dahlberg said. “The crop was extremely versatile in that the grain was used for human food production, the leaves were harvested for animal feed and the stalks, many of which could be as tall as 12 feet, were used as building material. The versatility and the toughness of the crop got me interested in researching what made this crop work.”
For an interesting look at why farmers are considering sorghum, Dan Charles reports for NPR.
Delicious, nutritious food
What has Dahlberg most excited about sorghum is it's potential as a drought-tolerant human food crop.
“Sorghum has real potential as a healthy, low-cost cereal crop for the gluten-free market, but also as an Old World cereal that can be blended with other flours and used in unique breads," he said. “Sorghum doesn't have gluten, so you can't use it for nice leavened breads, but you can use sorghum to make nice biscuits, flat breads, quick breads, cakes, cookies, brownies and pancakes.
Sorghum should be thought of as whole grain flour that has a neutral color, little taste and unique cooking characteristics. Dahlberg admits his favorite way to eat this grain is as a brownie made with sorghum flour, but he says the plant “can be extruded to produce excellent snack and cereal products. It can be popped like popcorn, flaked and otherwise processed like other cereals.”
To find delicious ways to enjoy sorghum, we went in search of some good recipes.
These five ways to eat sorghum from thekitchn got us thinking. Why not use sorghum instead of rice for a change in salads? Also, the Mexican sorghum bowl looks delicious.
More fun serving ideas can be found at American Sorghum's page. Did you know there are now sorghum beers?
We also have our eye on this sorghum salad from Whole Grains Council; it includes oregano, feta cheese and pine nuts.
Sorghum syrup is an old-fashioned Southern favorite. As Sherry Leverich Tucker explains in this interesting Mother Earth News article, this sweet, dark, heavy syrup is made by cooking the juice squeezed from the sorghum cane. Just don't call it molasses, which is derived only from the process of making cane sugar. But do use sorghum as you would molasses in recipes. For ideas, consider these recipes from Southern Living. Beef ribs with sorghum glaze, anyone?
It's healthy: Medical Daily reports, “Sorghum has high nutritional value, with high levels of unsaturated fats, protein, fiber and minerals like phosphorus, potassium, calcium and iron. It also has more antioxidants than blueberries and pomegranates.”
In an old episode of the television show Cheers, the protagonist Sam Malone says, “I didn't say I wanted sorghum, I said I wanted some more gum.”
We think if Sam Malone had actually tried sorghum, he would have preferred it over gum.
Today's post is contributed by Teresa O'Connor, assistant editor of the UC Food Observer. The UC Food Observer is edited by ANR's Rose Hayden-Smith. For policy wonks to the public at large, the UC Food Observer is your daily selection of must-read news from the world of food and agriculture, developed by the University of California as part of the UC Global Food Initiative. The UC Food Observer blog and related social media channels aim to highlight important news and add value to the varied discussions occurring about how to sustainably and nutritiously feed the world. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
“I was impressed with the fact that sorghum was so drought tolerant,” Dahlberg said. “They used no irrigation at all.”
More than 30 years later, Dahlberg, the director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, is still impressed with sorghum and believes it has potential to be a significant crop in California, where water is a serious concern.
Sorghum isn’t a new crop to the Golden State. It was introduced more than 150 years ago. In the 1960s, a half-million acres were planted to sorghum, mainly for animal feed.
“Now, if there were 20,000 acres in sorghum I would be surprised,” Dahlberg said. Alfalfa hay and corn silage are currently the two most common forages at California dairies, which maintain nearly 2 million cows.
Dahlberg initiated a five-year research project in 2012 with funding from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources aimed at reintroducing sorghum as a low-input crop for bioenergy, food and feed in California.
A unique characteristic of sorghum is its adaptability. In many parts of the world, from Africa to India to China, sorghum grain is used to make porridge, flat bread and alcoholic beverages for people to enjoy. In the United States, sorghum has traditionally been considered an animal feed. But growing interest in eating whole grains and gluten-free foods is generating interest in sorghum for human consumption.
Sorghum grain can be milled like wheat. Sorghum flour, which is naturally gluten-free, makes excellent flat breads, cookies, pancakes and waffles, Dahlberg said. By combining with other ingredients that help it maintain loft in the absence of gluten, sorghum can also be baked into traditional fluffy bread and cake.
Whole sorghum grain may be added to soups, makes a dish similar to couscous, and can be popped like popcorn for snacking. The stems of sweet sorghum can be pressed, like sugarcane, to produce sorghum molasses or syrup.
According to the Whole Grains Council, sorghum doesn’t have the inedible hull that surrounds other grains. Since it is typically eaten with all its layers intact, sorghum retains the majority of its nutrients. In addition, the wax surrounding the sorghum grain contains compounds called policosanols, which may have an impact on cardiac health.
“We’re trying to understand whether or not the hybrids developed for the U.S. Sorghum Belt – Texas, Oklahoma, western Nebraska and South Dakota – are adapted to California conditions,” Dahlberg said. “So far, they are doing very well.”
The forage research will determine how to manage sorghum to maximize yield and reduce water and nitrogen use. Early results show that farmers can save a significant amount of water growing sorghum for dairy silage when compared with corn.
“We use less than 20 inches of irrigation water on our sorghum plots and getting 22 to 25 wet tons of material off a single crop. A corn crop will need 36 inches of water or more,” Dahlberg said.
The crop’s fertilizer needs are also quite low. In fact, too much fertilizer can cause the sorghum stalks to fall down, or lodge, which hinders harvest.
"When California farmers think about growing sorghum for gluten-free food, biofuel or animal feed, they will be able to access information generated by local research to help them make the decision," Dahlberg said.